Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Life Makes You Stronger, Period. {Part II}

In my last post I discussed the January 2012 article in Vanity Fair by Christopher Hitchens. I found this article discussing the ol' adage of "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger" completely by happenstance just going through past tweets from a Twitter account I recently started to follow.
I'll be honest I was never a Hitchens' fan. When he passed away, though, I was amazed by how many people didn't know who he was -- at all. Like I said in my last post, on the day of his passing his book, "God is Not Great," became a #TT, or Trending Topic, on Twitter and people became angry, aggravated, and enraged but they didn't know the source of the #TT. Yes, it may not be a statement a person believes in but don't jump to the keys before you know the full story. It was a title of a book and also a epitaph of a man. It is my belief that whether you agree with him or not, you can't argue he made a lasting impression on American culture. He even made a lasting impression on me. That is why I write this today. I wasn't expecting to have an enlightening moment but it happened. Here I am to tell you about it...

Toward the end of the Vanity Fair article, Hitchens talks about pain in his arms, hands, and fingers while getting treatment at MD Anderson (MDA) in Houston. I can identify with this pain although I do not have cancer. I am treated at MDA for what is called Schwannomatosis. I have numerous internal tumors that pop up on my nerves throughout my body causing pain. That very pain oscillates from mild to maddening.
Most recently, I've had pain in my left shoulder, arm, hand, including the tips of my left fingers. It ranges from a burning sensation to a dull ache and from not hurting at all during the middle of the day to the point I feel as though my hand and arm are in a 300-degree oven or hotter.
This oven business usually happens between 9 p.m.-7 a.m. It's not the sizzling show you dream of as an adult singleton, let me tell ya!

"I am typing this [the article]" Hitchens wrote. "Having just had an injection to try to reduce the pain in my arms, hands, and fingers."

He went on to say that the no. 1 side effect of the pain is numbness in the extremities," filling me with the not irrational fear that I shall lose the ability to write."

There it is. My own worst fear right there in black and white. Staring at me, is it taunting me? I had a shoulder surgery now probably five years ago in Seattle at the University of Washington. After surgery I noticed my right hand was basically in a fist. When the surgeon came in for a post-op evaluation, he looked at me, my right hand, at me, my mom, my right hand. This kept up for what seemed like the length of an entire visit. Then, he finally spoke: "I'm not sure what happened." He shook his head. "The nerve probably just got stretched while in surgery."

Today, after two different rounds of physical therapy and just living life, my right hand is still not itself. It is no longer my writing hand or my hand to fork a salad or spoon my favorite chocolate ice cream. I use my right hand to pet my dogs, hold my iPad straight, and steady a book.
I will tell you it has damaged my self-esteem given that now I have this hand issue and my foot drop on my right side and a decade ago I had neither one.

Stretched nerve.

Cut nerve.

Surgery is hard enough, period. Patients, like myself, deal with the bumpy, pink scars masked by staples like tiny silver teeth in the skin so flat against the flesh it is as if each one is meant to be there from the beginning, at birth.

Patients mostly spend time worrying if the resected tumor(s) are benign or not. I know I do. In all my surgeries, though, all 20+ of them, the tumors have been benign. Very often this occurs in Schwannomatosis cases like mine. But these are tumors and they have their own rules. I have had two biopsies (which I think of as close calls) and each resected tumor from a surgery is tested. So even though I have been told it is very unlikely to be malignant, I remain skeptical. It can happen. It did happen with my father. [More on that in posts to come.] So, I continue to worry. I have reasons to worry.

You know, how it's always said that 40 is the new 30? For me, left is the new right. I'm not talking politics. Hold on! I'm not even going there! I'm talking hands! That's why the burning and aching at 2 a.m. worries me more than normal. As a writer myself with goals to meet and dreams to achieve, I related completely to Hitchens when he said: "I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood, but my very life, and it's true."
Hitchens also discussed how he is threatened by a loss of voice. I, too, came to that same point when a tumor was found pressed on my vocal chord just last year that caused my voice to quake. After surgery, I got an injection at MDA that was supposed to help my vocal chords and it did...for awhile. Then it faded, again. Just above a whisper, I tried to speak. Waitors and grocery store employees inquired about my situation: "What's with your voice? Are you OK?" I so had a good (evil) response for them. They probably did mean well or were genuinely curious but it was NOTB. I mean, really?

I again connected with Hitchens, who at the time of writing the story, was receiving temporary injections into his vocal folds. "I feel my personality and identity dissolving as I contemplate dead hands and the loss of the transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking."

Dead hands.

Loss of the transition belts.

When I saw "dead hands" something in me halted. The what-ifs started...
What if my next surgery turns my hand numb and into a non-working utensil? No-longer functioning... I mean I would have never imagined my right hand having such a fate!
What if...
What if...
What if...
I have two semi-working hands but neither one can hold a pen or pencil and I no longer write or type?

I stopped myself again.

* * * * *

I can't let this control me. I definitely can't let it when I'm not even in there [in the hospital]. A few years back, I found a new perspective that works most days in my favor. Any day I'm not going to or not at the hospital or doctor's office is a good day.

Today is a very good day. Very little pain.

No visits for at least a month. Maybe longer.

I never thought I would have such experiences in common with such a man of our time. No, I could disagree all day with regard to his thoughts on religion and politics but when it comes down to the hospital room, we are simply human with the same fears who just try to survive in such an environment.
Unfortunately, Hitchens did not survive. He was, though, during his life able to share a common experience that touches all too many of us, including yours truly. Just like out here in the real world, in there, you need a voice and you need to be heard. That's why this article is so important in my mind.

As for the ol' saying, "Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger..." Scratch that.

**New adage: "Life makes you stronger." Period.**

Ironically, I was checking out one of my favorite Web sites & someone else with a scholarly background weighs in on the saying. Does he agree or disagree with me? Find out here.

As for me, no matter what happens, writing is way too important of an endeavor to relinquish because of an illness. It is my passion. Has been for a very long time. I was a sophomore in high school when I knew I wanted to devote my career to writing. Even in grade school, I wrote short stories.

I will not let myself stop completely. Ever. There are famous writers who, sick in bed, wrote stories. Like Hitchens. Story after story. So, I can't let Schwannomatosis and its side effects put my pen down. Not now. I'll just order the newest version of the Dragon voice recorder and go from there. Until then, I plan to write, write, write.            

View the complete Vanity Fair here.

©The Healing Redhead

Image 1:
Image 2:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Life Makes Us Stronger, Period. {Part I}

I know Christopher Hitchens (1949-2012) made many people's blood boil for his views and promotion of the "New Athesism" movement. It's quite an understatement, really, because when he passed away his book, "God is Not Great," became a Twitter trending topic and for those who didn't know about the book and the author's death were riled up, to say the very least. I still remember the countless tweets like: "How can you say this?," "This isn't funny," "Is this some kind of joke?" and "Tweet if you Believe God IS great because He is!"

Maybe it's the intellectual in me but I felt sorry for those people who didn't get. It's not that I believe in the philosophy of Hitchens regarding religion but people should be informed enough to know the origination of a trending topic (an author's death) or be willing to look it up (too much to ask, I know, silly me!) before jumping on the tweet machine. So many probably haven't even heard of Hitchens and probably still don't realize that the #TT was a book title rather than a mere stunt of the day. I know it's still a disagreeable topic but there was someone behind it.

Even though we may not agree with someone's background, philosophy, or religion (or lack of) I still think there are chances, mere instances, to find something of value between the person and yourself. Finding this similarity or middle ground can be important -- at business meetings, family reunions, the coffee line and maybe even your own mini-van. Ha! There is much to disagree about in this world for sure, and for many people, including myself, *atheism is a "deal breaker," as Dr. Phil likes to say. But even so, I found something of a treasure when I read an article by Hitchens, one of the last he published, in the 2012 January issue of Vanity Fair. If you spend time with people, there are some likely gems to uncover. I hope the following, covered in two parts, will illustrate just that.

Without going into too much detail, I will tell you I have a genetic disorder called
Schwannomatosis ( and the physicians at MD Anderson in Houston have taken good
care of me the last two-and-half years. Before that, I was at the University of Washington-
Seattle. In reading Hitchens' article in Vanity Fair, it confirmed that he was a patient at MD
Anderson too. He was being seen there for esophageal cancer. Diagnosed in 2010 while on a publicity tour for a memoir, he began writing about his illness. It is in speaking of his
illness that I write about him today.

In the VF article, "Trail of Will," Hitchens discussed the ol' saying, "Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger." Not a big fan of the adage, the author finds it "increasingly

I will say I whole-heartedly agree with that! As a chronic pain patient and a person living with a genetic disorder for the past 17 years that has brought on its share of surgeries, biopsies, CTs, PETs, MRIs, countless ER visits, and more medicine than I can keep contained in
one large travel makeup container, I feel it is anything but accurate. More like inadequate, aggravating, and obviously needs editing! Ha! So, whatever doesn't kill me will...
A) kill me;
B) kill you;
C) doesn't make anyone stronger, especially the patient in question. The patient
is only tired and in need of more sleep (except insomnia is a side-effect); and/or
D) Something else might (kill ya) in this day & age (too much red meat, too much sugar, too
much sitting, too much alcohol, too many carbs... It changes nearly daily!)

In his article, Hitchens starts off his article with a pair of philosophers to make his point, Friedrich Nietzsche, who apparently coined the lovely (not!) phrase, and Sidney Hook. The article ends up focusing a lot on Nietzsche and Hitchens tries to demonstrate whether the good ol' saying was relevant in the philosopher's life or whether it was just some pretty poetic German.

It is in the last half of the article where Hitchens talks about his own experiences that gave me a new way to think of my own. But first he relays his thoughts on the quote in question: "[...] I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that 'Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger.' In fact, I now sometimes wonder why I ever thought it profound."

I found a certain quote of his regarding pain to be especially profound and it gave me pause: "It's probably a merciful thing that pain is impossible to describe from memory. It's also
impossible to warn against."

What do YOU, MY BLOG READERS, think of this?

Yes, patients do forget how painful the day after surgery is so that when the next surgery comes around he/she (she -- as in ME!) can do it again. Funny, how that works!

Same goes for the ladies wanting baby #2 or #3. Labor is a distant memory and that sweet bundle of joy is right around the corner, never mind the contractions (yeah right!) and the bliss (pain!!) of delivery.

Also, READERS: in a medical situation, are you likely to find out what the procedure is like
beforehand or do you like to wing it? Do you think "winging it" is the better approach? Why/Why not?

So Hitchens starts to speak of his stint at MD Anderson and that alone puts me in a place I don't want to be, a place where I think of my own pain, my own loss, my own future.

So... we will talk about it next time! Part II How I Reacted to Hitchens Words...

But first...
Do you think it is wise to educate yourself on people in the public eye that you
fundamentally disagree with in order to simply know who the person is and what they represent?
Or... Do you feel that if you don't like a person or fundamentally disagree with the person,
you ignore articles that feature the person and do not learn about their background even if he or she is a newsmaker?

Hitchens photo courtesy of:
Vanity Fair cover:

 ©The Healing Redhead